The Paleoenvironment and Lithic Taphonomy of Shi’Bat Dihya 1, a Middle Paleolithic Site in Wadi Surdud, Yemen


  • Scientific editing by Jamie Woodward

*Corresponding author;



The Shi'bat Dihya 1 site in western Yemen, dated by optically stimulated luminescence to 55 ka, provides insight into the Middle Paleolithic peopling of the Arabian Peninsula. The archaeological layer is interstratified within thick, sandy silt floodplain deposits filling a piedmont basin. Luminescence dates, lack of soil development, and gypsum precipitation indicate a high accretion rate of the floodplain during Marine Isotope Stage 3, in connection with a (semi)-arid environment. Rapid overbank sedimentation was likely a result of the remobilization of loess material deposited on the Yemeni Great Escarpment at the periphery of the adjacent Tihama coastal sand desert or of other sources. Fabric and size analyses of the lithic artifacts, together with spatial projections, indicate site modifications by floods. Primary modifications include (1) selective accumulation of medium-sized lithic pieces as a result of hydraulic sorting, (2) bimodal orientation of artifacts, and (3) ripple-like arrangement of lithics and bone/tooth fragments. The overrepresentation of teeth may also be a consequence of sorting. Although floods have distorted the original site patterning, long-distance transport of artifacts by water can be excluded, as indicated by relatively high refitting rate, close proximity of artifacts derived from the same block of raw material, and lack of abrasion of the pieces. Therefore, the site is considered “geologically” in situ because its remobilization by water occurred shortly after human abandonment. This study also stresses that the effective preservation of a site cannot be assessed without careful taphonomic study, even in a potentially favorable depositional context such as silty alluvium.